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Lightning excited for Game 7 opportunity vs. Rangers

by Brian Compton

NEW YORK -- The Tampa Bay Lightning are one win away from the Stanley Cup Final. They know what's at stake: Win and move on, or lose and go home.

The New York Rangers are treating Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Friday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports) as just another game. After all, they've won 15 of 18 elimination games since the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But the Lightning have a different opinion.

"I don't think it's just another game," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said Friday. "This is Game 7. You win this game and you're going to go play for the Stanley Cup. So I'm not going to sit here and hide this from our guys saying, 'Oh, fellas, this is one of 103 or 104, or whatever we're playing.'

"Our attitude is we've actually been here before in these playoffs. And we went through Game 6 on the road in Detroit [in the first round] and played arguably our best game of the playoffs in that game [a 5-2 win]. We were in Game 7 at home, back against the wall. We were in Game 6 against Montreal [in the second round] when we'd given up two games and pressure shifted to us to take them out before we go back up [to Montreal].

"That's how we look at this, is we've been through these in this last month and a half. And yes, the light's shining a little brighter on this game, there is no question. But I know, I guess, if you're talking lack of experience over years as a group, no question. But we've had a lot of guys that have played Game 7s and been in these situations and we've been in [Game 7] in this playoffs just recently. So I don't want to hide behind the clichés of, 'It's just another game.' This is an unreal game to be a part of. You sit back and think, I said this [Thursday], guys don't dream of scoring the winning goal in Game 1. You dream of scoring the winning goal in Game 7, and this is Game 7. … We're excited to play this game."

At this time a year ago Lightning center Brian Boyle was playing a big role for the Rangers in helping them reach the Stanley Cup Final. He played those games in front of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who has won six consecutive Game 7s while boasting a 0.81 goals-against average and .973 save percentage. Boyle knows it won't be easy but said he knows what he and his teammates must do if they're going to advance.

"Hopefully [we can] keep him in his net, keep him from seeing the puck," Boyle said of Lundqvist, who made 36 saves to help the Rangers stave off elimination with a 7-3 win at Tampa in Game 6 on Tuesday. "Get traffic and the law of averages is quantity. Lot of shots, lot of puck possession … we'll see how it plays out."

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said of Lundqvist, "He's a great goaltender. He's never played the Tampa Bay Lightning in a Game 7 before. That's how we are approaching it."

Here are the projected lineups:


Alex Killorn - Valtteri Filppula - Steven Stamkos

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

Brian Boyle - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan

J.T. Brown - Brenden Morrow

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Jason Garrison

Matthew Carle - Andrej Sustr

Nikita Nesterov

Ben Bishop

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Scratched: Mark Barberio, Jonathan Drouin, Jonathan Marchessault, Vladislav Namestnikov

Injured: None


Rick Nash - Derick Brassard - J.T. Miller

Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Jesper Fast

Carl Hagelin - Kevin Hayes - Martin St. Louis

Tanner Glass - Dominic Moore - James Sheppard

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi

Marc Staal - Dan Boyle

Keith Yandle - Kevin Klein

Henrik Lundqvist

Cam Talbot

Scratched: Ryan Bourque, Matt Hunwick, Chris Summers

Injured: Mats Zuccarello (upper body)

Status update: Paquette participated in an optional morning skate and could be ready to return after missing Game 6 because of a hand injury. … Cooper said whatever virus was going through the dressing room has passed and his players are healthy.

Who's hot: Kucherov had two goals in Game 6 and trails Johnson by one point for the Lightning lead in scoring this postseason with 19 points. He has three goals and five assists in this series.


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